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GAME RECAP: #5 Texas A&M 31, Auburn 20

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What to say about this one...

NCAA Football: Texas A&M at Auburn John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

For a bit of a look behind the curtain, normally I’d like to start writing the game recap at some point during the game. I didn’t start until darkness fell because I figured that I had better things to do than brood over this loss and let it eat at me. Instead, I could spend the rest of the afternoon with my family, let my wife try her hand at cutting my hair, and take a walk around the neighborhood, thinking of things aside from Auburn football.

What does that mean? First of all, losses don’t affect me the way they did years ago. I’m still annoyed that we were a less talented team than Texas A&M, but save for one or two plays here or there, we end up winning that game. Even despite the gross effort our defense put in today, Auburn wasn’t far from winning. Somehow. I know.

I think what it means most of all is that I’m a little bored. The most excitement we got out of today was Bo Nix scrambling out of a sack and taking off for a short touchdown run. Maybe when Tank Bigsby broke that long run, slashing through a defender like Cadillac used to do. Other than that, there’s nothing that will stand out about the game. Man, in 2009 and 2010, then again in 2013 and 2014, I got thrills watching Gus Malzahn coach a football game. Today, and for several years since his early days, the thrill is gone.

What happened to the guy that called the pump fake and the reverse against Alabama in 2009? Where’s the Cam Newton jab step play action? Why haven’t we seen the guts to run the fake pooch punt from Tuscaloosa in 2010? What about the pop pass? Or the relentless and punishing run game that appears on the surface to be all misdirection and cuteness but quickly shows itself as nothing more than power? Have I missed this? When did this great transition happen? When did Gus get scared?

Here’s the deal. We’re not going to make a coaching change this year. Even if Auburn goes out and loses to Mississippi State next Saturday, finishes 5-5, and really sucks the air out of all of this as we head into 2021, I won’t support firing him. I’d be in favor of making a change, but things are bigger than football, and I can’t support a public university taking the $21M it would require to make a change. We also all know that it wouldn’t only be that amount. We’ll drag this out through next year, and whether we end up with a championship caliber team in 2021 (I’m not so sure), we’ll make a decision then, when the optics aren’t nearly as scrutinizing and we’re not in a pandemic economy.

Suffice it to say, today’s loss didn’t bother me in the slightest, since I’ve become accustomed to not being dazzled anymore. The romance is gone, and it’s just football right now. Now, on to the recap —

GAME RECAP

Auburn’s defense failed to rise to the challenge today, and the offense sputtered on a few occasions as the Tigers fell to Texas A&M 31-20. The Aggies utilized a punishing ground game, slicing through the Auburn defense on the way to 313 rushing yards as they improved to 7-1. Auburn drops to 5-4 with the loss and will face Mississippi State next weekend for the final game of the bizarre 2020 season.

Tank Bigsby returned from injury to lead Auburn in rushing with 76 yards on 9 carries, and Bo Nix ran for both of Auburn’s touchdowns, but the Tigers made key mistakes at crucial moments and could not break the will of the A&M offense as the Aggies rolled up more than 500 total yards of offense.

The first quarter saw Texas A&M march right down the field to score a touchdown on the game’s opening drive. Kellen Mond completed all 6 of his passes, including the capper, a 10-yard toss to Jalen Wydermyer. Auburn answered with a three-and-out and punted the ball back to A&M, but the defense forced the Aggies to punt themselves on the second possession. Auburn found something on offense over the next two drives as Bo Nix settled in. Unfortunately, Nix missed an easy touchdown pass to a wide open Eli Stove on Auburn’s second drive, and the Tigers settled for a field goal, but then he was able to break into the end zone on the ensuing possession on a dazzling run where he avoided a sure sack and followed blockers into the end zone. Auburn took a 10-7 edge midway through the second quarter.

A&M answered right back with an 8-play, 75-yard foray that ended in a Kellen Mond quarterback sneak, leaving Auburn just 24 seconds before halftime. Gus Malzahn ate all three of his timeouts and went into the locker room down 14-10.

After the intermission, Auburn went 9 plays and 75 yards on the first drive — all on the ground — and punched in Nix’s second touchdown run to retake a 17-14 lead. Auburn looked to be leaning strongly on the Aggies after forcing a punt and moving deep into A&M territory on the next drive. A 42-yard burst by Tank Bigsby put Auburn into the red zone, but the next three plays went for naught. Auburn added a short Anders Carlson field goal, but still led by just one possession at 20-14.

The next A&M drive was the turning point. Kellen Mond drove the Aggies into Auburn territory, and on a key third down he hit Chase Lane for 16 yards to the Tiger 20. Replay showed that the ball clearly hit the ground on the catch, but neither the replay officials nor the Auburn coaches saw anything, and nobody reviewed it. The call stood, and on the next play, Mond’s pass into the end zone skipped off the hands of Zakoby McClain at the goal line and into the waiting arms of Wydermyer for the go-ahead score. Those two plays — back to back — broke Auburn and the defense didn’t make a stop the rest of the game.

A&M added another touchdown on an Ainias Smith 4-yard scamper, and tacked on some insurance with a short field goal to go up 31-20. Auburn’s final ditch effort fell short, and the Aggies kneeled out the clock.

FINAL STATS

PLAYER OF THE GAME

I guess it’ll be Bo Nix. He showed off some skills and ran in both of Auburn’s touchdowns, but it was a rather pedestrian effort overall. He was 15-23 for 144 yards and no scores, but no picks, while running for 49 yards and those touchdowns on 11 carries.

PLAY OF THE GAME

We were all feeling pretty bullish on Bo after this one.

UP NEXT

Auburn will meet Mississippi State next weekend in Starkville, with the time to be determined for the final regular season game of 2020.